ghost_writer_4008 Roman Polanski has been a fugitive from justice for years. It has been thirty-plus years since he was arrested, tried and convicted of rape. He then fled to Europe. His Hollywood friends, most of whom prove their utter contempt for decency and the law, still offer their support for the convicted felon.

But Polanski can make films. During his brief time in Hollywood Polanski made Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, which all but assured his stature in the history of cinema. His best-known film made during his decades in exile was The Pianist, a highly regarded and, I believe, much over-rated movie.

Ross Douthat, writing in the National Review, says of Polanski: “At the very least, the shadow of jail time seems to have concentrated his mind, and spurred his creativity. His latest film, The Ghost Writer, which slunk into American theaters this month (how would you like to be the publicist promoting it?) and which Polanski edited while under house arrest in Gstaad, turns out to be very much worth seeing. Sleek, chilly, and Hitchcockian, it’s by far his finest work in years.” I agree with Douthat after seeing the film for myself.

Ewan McGregor plays a nameless “ghost” writer who is hired to help a former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (think Tony Blair if you like) to write his memoirs. He is brilliant in the role. The ex-PM has taken flight to a beach home on Martha’s Vineyard. Lang’s role is played by Pierce Brosnan, now older and very effective in this role. Lang has a mistress, a role played by Kim Cattrall who seems terribly miscast. (Her acting persona for those who know her past, was shaped by playing one of the leading ladies in Sex and the City.) McGregor’s character soon realizes that his task, of re-writing the politician’s book, is not only near impossible (given the four weeks he is allowed) but he soon finds out that his predecessor disappeared in the ocean rather suspiciously. This becomes the point of the story that intrigues. What happened and why?

Viewers will see Bush-Blair in this movie and some will be disgusted. I found it a lot like watching an Oliver Stone film but then this one does not attempt to do anything remotely like biography in the name of fiction. This defect aside the film is just a rip-roaring good conspiracy theory through and through. Lang’s secret keeps things moving to a climax that is worth the wait.

The real star in this film is ex-PM Lang’s wife, played by Olivia Williams, who had her first big role in Rushmore. She hasn’t done a lot of grade A stuff since. But in this film she is utterly brilliant. Douthat writes, “She’s too caustic and intelligent, perhaps, for the kind of work that Hollywood usually assigns its younger actresses.”

If you can forget the Bush-Blair parallels, which are obvious but silly in a way, and try to forget Polanski, which I could not entirely, then the film is truly worth seeing. After seeing the Green Zone, a few weeks, earlier I have to say the parallels between truth and fiction did not spoil The Ghost Writer in the same way they did The Green Zone.

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  1. Mike Anderson May 2, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Rightly or wrongly, I have come to not give a hoot what actors/directors/etc. do in their personal lives. If their art is good or bad, that’s all I judge. (And I thought The Pianist was excellent. The scene where he plays the piece for the Nazi who finds him hiding is one of my favourite scenes from any movie.)
    Thanks for these reviews, John. I often watch films you recommend and review here.

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